This election, online issues finally got the attention they deserve. And the situation is here to stay.

I'm not talking about which party had the most Facebook followers or made the most gaffes on Twitter (Julia Gillard and Family First, respectively). Serious issues around internet governance and our internet future came into play, and by all accounts will continue to be significant as the situation plays out this week.

The first issue that affected the election was Labor's mandatory internet censorship policy, 3 years old and counting. Throughout that time, I believe the accepted wisdom amongst the scheme's proponents - the most notable being of course Senator Conroy - was that it would be unpopular with a handful of geeks but would appeal to the wider audience of mums and dads in the electorate.

If this was indeed the strategy, I think it backfired. Although it's based on mainly anecdotal evidence, I believe many internet users had their political consciousness awoken by this attempt to slap censorship on the country's net connections. When this issue was important to people, it didn't just put them slightly off-side, but made them hopping mad, if not lifelong skeptics of the ALP. Over time I have spoken to MPs and parliamentary staffers of all stripes, and I'm pleased to report that many people did indeed contact their elected representatives and let the opinions be known. For some MPs, this amounted to a veritable flood, and the issue was absolutely on their radar.

Unfortunately, we'll never be able to quantify what this did to Labor's vote. The fact is that Labor suffered a big swing against them, and it's worth noting that most of this swing went to the Greens, the most vocal opponents of the filter in Parliament. At the ballot box, we can't disentangle the filter from other issues such as climate change and refugees that the Greens campaigned on, but I believe the filter played a big role.

The Coalition, of course, decided to oppose the filter themselves, and this didn't happen until the election campaign was already underway. Once again, from reading the feedback online, there's some evidence that this gave their campaign a boost amongst Australia's netizens. The fact that they decided to make an announcement then, rather than wait for the legislation as they had previously indicated, shows that they thought this was the case as well.

So while I wouldn't want to oversell it, internet users are hardly a minority in Australia, and issues close to their hearts are at getting more attention than ever before.

The other major technological issue of the campaign was of course the National Broadband Network. This was without a doubt the one area where the policies of the two major parties differed the most. At the risk of over-editorialising, it was also one of the few policies with long-term vision and a nation-building agenda. Labor's policy calls for a huge investment in our broadband infrastructure, and - setting the economic arguments aside - is a clear win for internet users. The Coalition's policy is much more modest and boils down to wringing the last drops out of the copper network while leaving the market to take care of the rest.

As it happened, both policies got some real scrutiny, culminating in the Tony Abbott's embarrassing 7.30 Report appearance where he begged off discussing the details of broadband by claiming (correctly) that he's no "tech head". This is a major development; our leaders are now expected to know the difference between peak and actual speeds, symmetric and asymmetric connections, ADSL2+, DOCSIS 3 and Fibre to the Home. Telecommunications capability has assumed a place next to, even ahead of, rail and roads as critical infrastructure. This is as it should be.

The NBN is still making itself felt. The regional independents, now ubiquitously dubbed "kingmakers" by the media, have all flagged this as an issue. Nothing reduces the "tyranny of distance" like a fast net connection would, so it's a crucial issue for regional voters. If the three amigos decide to put Gillard back in the Lodge, our broadband future may have something to do with it.

Incidentally, an example of just how badly the filter has damaged Labor's credibility with regard to online issues is some of the negative comments we received for praising this Broadband policy in contrast to that of the Liberal party. Although this failure to "maintain the rage" against Conroy is temporary and I hope forgivable, the ALP have a long way to go if they ever want to regain the trust of Australian internet users.

I haven't yet touched on the uses of the net itself, including social media, in the campaign. The major parties focussed as normal on scary TV ads to get their message out, and online spending by the major parties (as best we can ascertain) came in at well under 10%. The Greens and minor parties relied much more heavily on drumming up support online, both as a deliberate strategy and due to financial necessity. It doesn't seem to have done them any harm at all. It's interesting to ponder what will the next election will look like; will the 30-second TV spot still reign supreme?

With the way things are going, we might not have to wait three years to find out.


  1. I think @wendy4senate made more gaffes on twitter.

    Oh, hang on. They weren't gaffes. Jebus.

    - mark

    Comment by Mark Newton on 27 August 2010 at 03:29
  2. Hang on! Mumbrella told us it was NOT the Twitter election! :) Australian's are finally finding their voice online. IMHO I think it is about the propagation speed of an idea or concept. With the holy trinity of Google Facebook & Twitter, finding diverse opinions on a policy and not relying simply on the MSM, is easier than ever. Australian's are learning they can make up their own minds and have the resources at their fingertips now. Not only that but the issue gets on to ppls radars a lot quicker than it ever has in the past. For the most part I think the MSM and a lot of the pollies are still trying to use social media as a broadcast medium. They seem to have little to no interest in responding people via these media yet they constantly use them to publish. The Greens of course were the exception to this rule.

    Comment by Jimboot on 27 August 2010 at 03:35
  3. Sorry, but there's no real evidence that the ALP's Net censorship plan is in the average voter's top ten issues. There's certainly no evidence that it was responsible for losing the ALP significant amounts of votes compared to, say, their backflip on global warming.

    Unless you can find hard evidence that the ALP's censorship plan has moved at least tens of thousands of votes from the ALP to the Coalition, it's simply not a live issue. If you can't find such evidence (gut feelings are not evudence) the best plan is to tell people how to beat censorship, as shown at, and new methods being describe at

    Comment by David Jackmanson on 27 August 2010 at 03:46
  4. Hard evidence: not forthcoming, the country was clearly split on several issues.

    Soft evidence: over 1000 Facebook groups and pages against the filter, with approximately 2 million profiles as members. Much of these will be trolls, repeats, and people outside of Australia. But even if you set the confidence level to a mere 20% , that's already pushing a quarter of a million people.

    Comment by Emma Anderson on 27 August 2010 at 04:13
  5. *exact figures not available

    Comment by Emma Anderson on 27 August 2010 at 04:14
  6. "The Coalition, of course, decided to oppose the filter themselves, and this didn't happen until the election campaign was already underway.
    Of course, the Coalition's oppposition didn't come until after the Senate Group Voting Tickets were lodged, locking in all those lovely Family First preferences.

    Re Mark's comment: Of course @wendy4senate was Wendy Francis, Family First's lead Senate candidate in Qld.

    @David J: Censorship might not have been THE DEALBREAKER issue, but it was certainly an influence, along with the climate change backflip. And for folks like me where it was top-of-mind, we're not talking about just my vote; we're talking about the number of others' votes I influenced. For example, the number of pro-ALP blog posts and letters to the editor written by me pre-November 2007 = LOTS. Post 2008, the number is ZERO.

    Thanks for the link to the guide to bypass censorship.

    Comment by Mike Fitzsimon on 27 August 2010 at 04:14
  7. While I have taken different positions at the ballot box from time to time, historically, I am traditionally a conservative voter - and have even voted Labor in some government jurisdictions - normally based on issues at the time.

    Given the filter, and what ultimately became the position of the Greens and Coalition against it, it most certainly dictated my senate vote. No question whatsoever, and the Greens got it for me.

    In the lower house, I decided to tread carefully - I believe very much in the promise of the NBN, but could not bring myself to vote Labor in the house, for no other reason than the filter - so the Greens won there for me also. I preferenced Labor ahead of Liberal.

    For the sake of the NBN, I hope that Labor forms government, but I wanted to make sure that the ALP got the message that their "bullshit" attitude towards the technology community, and that they realised that they are on borrowed time, and that we won't be taken for granted, just because we are "geeks".

    Comment by Michael Wyres on 27 August 2010 at 04:25
  8. Emma, your numbers strike me as wishful thinking. Some of the groups I've found on Facebook include:

    No Australian Internet Censorship: 45,000 members

    I am more offended by censorship laws than I am by the things they censor: 17,000 members

    No Clean Feed: 17,900 members

    I bet I can find 100,000 Aussies who will fight against Internet censorship: 13,400 members

    That's less than 100,000 all up.

    Where do you think the other 1,900,000 might be?

    Also, joining a Facebook group does NOT mean you've been convinced to change your vote. The ONLY thing the ALP cares about is losing office. There are maybe 5 Lower House seats in Australia where the Greens could *possibly* beat the ALP - Melbourne (won by the Greens last weekend), Sydney, Grayndler, Brisbane and Fremantle. Even if the Greens were to win all five of those seats, I find it very hard to imagine they'd throw out an ALP Government and support a Coalition one instead. Doing that would tear the Greens apart, just as the Democrats tore themselves apart over the GST a decade ago.

    Mike, sure, you may have wrote lots of blog posts and withdrawn your support from the ALP. But did you give them your preference? Would you seriously advise your readers and friends to preference the Coalition instead of the ALP? If not, what we do has no real effect on the ALP and they can safely ignore us.

    There is simply no evidence that the Net censorship issue affected the ALP's chances of holding onto Government. There's no evidence that enough people are worried about Net censorship the make the ALP need to change its mind. That is why I think our strategy needs to be making sure everyone who IS concerned knows how to get around Net censorship. Because if the ALP does try to bring in their censorship plan, a majority of the public is not likely to support our efforts to stop it.

    Comment by David Jackmanson on 27 August 2010 at 05:24
  9. @David J, I suspect "withdrawn support" is playing out at this very minute in the AEC. Libs ahead by 743. Postals now favouring them 52.22-47.78. Absentees favouring ALP 55.04-44.96

    As for my preference, yeah, you got me there. My choice in Forde was made easier by the fact that the LNP candidate had stood as a Family First candidate in 2007. Aaargh!

    Comment by Mike Fitzsimon on 27 August 2010 at 05:42
  10. In the comment above, I was talking about the count in Arch Bevis' seat, Brisbane. Currently declared "won by LNP" on AEC site but "too close to call" by @AntonyGreenABC. Last seat standing.

    Comment by Mike Fitzsimon on 27 August 2010 at 05:44
  11. The ALP's internet censorship plan was the primary voting issue for me, not only for practical reasons, but because it highlighted their approach to democracy, both in general and within their own party. It is obvious to me that they don't care for it - so I didn't vote for them, and I won't ever vote for them whilst they continue to conduct themselves in this fashion.

    The slapdash plan of an NBN, dreamt up at the last minute by speech writers rather than anyone with technical knowledge (which can be said of all ALP IT policy) was an insufficient bribe to change my mind. I don't believe for a second that the ALP is able to deliver an NBN any more than they could a working filter - it is obvious to me that they simply made this policy up to win votes the same way they believed the censorship plan would. It's all talk and no thinking.

    It is however worth mentioning that the Coalition's plans are hardly better, and that this article (as so many do) fails to take into account a third possibility when dealing with the oft cited binary choices: the idea of a protest or abstention vote. Neither policy is worth a damn, and I am confident that many of the Australian people have made a conscious choice to turn their backs on the rubbish policies of both major parties. We aren't endorsing either of these useless parties, we actually hold them in contempt - that is what I believe the voting shows (and given more than half a million people voted informally, I would argue that it is more than a vote of no confidence in the parties, it is also a vote of no confidence in the farce that is the Australian electoral process. This is a joke and so many of us know it and are unwilling to participate in what is effectively a charade).

    Comment by Stuart on 27 August 2010 at 06:00
  12. Thanks all for the great comments.

    As Colin mentioned in the article, we will never be able to measure the true impact of the vote from #OpenInternet supporters. So all we do have to work with is anecdotal evidence.

    Given that this Election is literally going to be decided by a handful of votes, I think it is reasonable claim that a campaign, even as small as this one can have its effect magnified because it is so close. Of course, so did other important issue such as climate change and refugees etc.

    I believe the point of the article was to say that due to the closeness of the Election, a whole range of issues including the Internet Filter played a role in the swing against Labor. For those that have been supportive of the Open Internet, and especially those that made their vote count this election, we say thank you.

    In regards to the comments above about circumvention of the filter now being the focus, I disagree. The filter proposal has not been tabled on voted upon in Parliament. Until it is, we still have the duty to remain vigilant in our campaign to see the legislation dropped. Far from conceding defeat, the number in the senate look look likely to block the proposal in a vote.

    Mike Jones

    Comment by mjones on 27 August 2010 at 19:19
  13. @david Not evidence but I use Google Insights daily in a professional capacity and have found the relative volumes of searches reliable. Have a look at this graph and try some of your own phrases in there. In such a close election I would argue that the issue had an impact. Certainly not as significant as global warming or refugees but enough to make a difference.

    Comment by Jimboot on 27 August 2010 at 19:40
  14. This election made me an activist.

    I went from being a rusted-on labor supporter to someone willing to do as much as I could to get people to support minor parties and to preference labor after liberal.

    I realise that as an almost 50 year old, I am just a young kid feeling the thrill of pretending to be an adult on the internet and the major parties should just ignore people like me... Hang on... Almost 50 years old.

    On the internet nobody knows you're a dog -- unfortunately that goes the other way too. On the internet Labor didn't realise it was a dog, but everyone else did.

    The absolutely most hilarious thing was that a certain lobby group seemed to dismiss us as a small organised group. Wrong on both counts it seems.

    The EFA's twitter poll produced a result almost too strong to be believed however almost exactly the same results are reported on an "exit" poll which shows that the filter predominantly changed votes in a particular direction.

    Of course those polls are hardly unbiased or representative of the Australian public as a whole, but they are indicative that the issue is/was a vote changer for on-line Australians. It is astounding that a minister responsible for wanting to push more and more Australians on-line was not bright enough to realise this nor to warn his party.

    Comment by Bob Whidon on 27 August 2010 at 19:58
  15. @Bob Whidon #14

    "This election made me an activist."

    This is the single most important and significant point right here.

    There are a whole bunch of people who got woken up by the internet censorship proposal. I think a hung parliament is just the first of many (well deserved) headaches for politicians as a result of that - the people have gotten a taste for real democracy, and I don't see that going away in a hurry. The new protesting *does* work, you *can* affect change, and suddenly there's actually a point to be involved in politics, you can *care* about because it *is* in your hands to make a difference.

    People want a voice and people want to act - and this is what the internet teaches/encourages/rewards, everyone gets a say and then what's important gets decided organically by the crowd. Think of all the sites that let anyone comment and anyone vote on those comments. Think of all the sites with thumbs up and thumbs down buttons. Real democracy in action. That's what the major parties are ignorant of - that entrenched *real* democratic mindset. They just assumed that everyone would go along with their pantomime democracy show like usual - whoops, not this time. We see and participate in a more authentic democracy every single day of our lives - why did they think we'd be satisfied with their inferior version? You can already see online competitors to the existing parties evolving - politics is just another business that's about to get eaten by an internet that offers superior alternatives.

    Comment by Stuart on 27 August 2010 at 21:11
  16. @ David

    It was probably also poor fact checking reliant on memory influenced by election figures on my part, as well, but it's not implausible.

    Here is some soft research done on Facebook as at January, 2010.

    There were over 500 groups at the time. Not a million members, but substantial figures...and yes, I agree, people vote on more than one issue....

    Comment by Emma Anderson on 28 August 2010 at 04:47
  17. By the way if anyone reading this doesn't believe people can influence the political landscape by using the INternet watch this

    Comment by Jimboot on 28 August 2010 at 23:35
  18. @jimboot posted a google analytics search. Allow me to include one with slightly different terms.

    Wondering how much people discussed "climate", "refugees", "filter" and "nbn" during the election campaign? Wonder no more:


    Comment by Mark Newton on 30 August 2010 at 04:08
  19. (oh, and I'm aware that "filter" includes things like "water filter," "oil filter," spam filter," and so on. Merely trying to point out the way that you can portray any result you like if you pick and choose your terms properly :-)

    Comment by Mark Newton on 30 August 2010 at 04:10
  20. I like my search terms better:

    Comment by Stuart on 30 August 2010 at 05:13
  21. GetUp also did well to keep online participation in front of people's minds. They took online voter registration to the courts, and won. They are probably the biggest Australian online activism group, and the two "major" political parties underestimated them as well.

    The Net isn't changing the demographic so much, but it's changing the way we participate. Politicians will survive depending on their awareness of this fact.

    As for changes in behaviour, I was already active in human-rights issues online, but Internet censorship was the only issue which got me steamed up enough to start a blog. I actually have no problem staying steamed-up on this issue while supporting FTTH (which our rural region badly needs).

    Comment by Clytie Siddall on 1 September 2010 at 05:16
  22. I'm not convinced ISP Filtering was ever expected to have an effect at the voter level. I think they assumed the people in support of it and those against it would kind of cancel each other out, and the whole thing was more about pandering to conservatives like Fielding to give the ALP more sway in the Senate.

    In any case, I think the swing back toward the Libs in this election is more a reflection of the 2007 election and the disapproval for Howard and Workchoices. Now they're both gone (or so we hear) a lot of those disapproving voters have returned to the fold, and a lot have decided the major parties are just as bad as one another.

    Comment by Gareth on 1 September 2010 at 21:41